KATHMANDU, Nov 30: With the PLA integration process making steady headway, senior Maoist commanders have entered a race to become the highest ranking Nepal Army (NA) official from among themselves.
Sources say that is why six of the division commanders have opted for integration, though Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal had earlier asked them to make arrangements for integration of only those below the rank of division vice-commander. “We don´t want to lose the opportunity to become the leading ex-PLA in the directorate. Also, we will otherwise severely weaken our bargaining capacity with the party for better positions,” said a division commander who did not want to be named.
According to sources, each of the six division commanders is using his own political channel and power to influence Dahal to bag the position, and the latter is facing a tough time choosing one of the commanders.
Party insiders say Dahal wants his favorite commander Santu Darai, who is also his security chief, to the leading ex-PLA in the directorate, but he is wary of creating rifts within his own faction, and wants to handle things tactfully. All the division commanders are from the party establishment faction.
Party Military Bureau Chief Barshaman Pun is, however, lobbying for Dhan Bahadur Maski Magar. Deputy Commander Chandra Prakash Khanal, on the other hand, wants to appoint Yam Bahadur Adhikari in the much sough-after position. Similarly, Tej Bahadur Oli is the favorite of party leader Janardan Sharma, who has a good hold over the PLA.
Second Division Commander Suk Bahadur Roka Magar for his part is in the lists of both PLA chief Nand Kishor Pun and Barsh Man Pun.
Interestingly, regional politics is playing a crucial role, as usual, in picking the PLA commander for the NA directorate.
Dahal wants to pick Darai, who is from his home district Chitwan, Sharma wants Oli, who is from his own district Rukum, and Roka Magar from Rolpa is in the lists of both Barshaman from Nanda Kishor, who are also from that district.
Party insiders say there is long-standing enmity between leaders from Rolpa and Rukum districts. Sharma rather wishes Dahal to pick Oli for the position, but not Roka Magar from Rolpa.
Kali Bahadur Kham, Fifth Division commander who was purportedly suspended from his position due to alleged involvement in some criminal cases, is not in the race.
“The chairman has not yet disclosed how many senior positions we will get in the directorate. So we filled in the integration forms for now,” Mahendra Bahadur Shahi, Sixth Division commander, told Republica.
In the first PLA General Staff meeting since the Nov 1 peace deal, Dahal had stated that there would be some ´political appointments´ to senior positions in the directorate, though leaders from the other political parties say they are not aware of any such appointments.
Nep Bahadur Kunwar Magar, Sixth Division vice-commander, argues that there is yet another reason why six of the vice-commanders have filled the integration forms.
“They issued a fiat to the rank and file to opt for integration. So they had to justify that fiat and avoid facing the wrath of low-rank personnel at this juncture,” said Magar.